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Topics - AAAndrew

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The writer, an elegant lady who lived from mid-1700s to early 1800s, English born and educated, was said to have an elegant "narrow Italian hand."

I'm trying to get an idea of what that may have looked like. I have read that Italian hands went out of style when roundhand became more popular, but it seems she was still using it, and Shelly included it in some of his books alongside roundhand, so it couldn't have been completely supplanted.

Anyone have an example?


Open Flourish | General Discussion / How Steel Pens Were Made
« on: April 24, 2023, 09:34:48 PM »
As part of my research on the history of the steel (dip) pen industry, I published a three-part series describing how pens were made during the golden age of dip pens (1830-1900). More automation began creeping into first the US factories around 1900s, and then in the UK during WWI, and the continent after the war.

I thought some of you might find this interesting, especially those of you who like to use vintage pens. I have included a link below to a Microsoft OneDrive folder with these articles (as well as some other history articles). Look for the articles on The Steel Pen Trade. I tried to attach, but one of them is too large, and cannot seem to compress it enough. Any other suggestions for how to attach are welcome.

I took as a conceit the factory tour, which was a popular kind of article during the industrial revolution to let people (who would never actually work in a factory) know what it was like to walk through these modern miracles of the age. It is pretty amazing how consistent the techniques were not just on both sides of the Atlantic (it was British engineers who set up the US factories, after all), but also throughout the century from the first factories in 1830s to the turn of the century.

There's more to this topic than I had space for. I would particularly like to research and write more about the lives of the women who made up most of the workforce in these factories. Men and boys worked the furnaces and steel rollers, but pretty much everything else was done by women. It was considered a good factory job for women in that it was relatively clean and safe (as long as you watched your fingers).

Anyway, any questions let me know. I hope you enjoy!

These were originally published in the Spring, Summer and Winter of 2021 issues of The Pennant (magazine of the Pen Collectors of America).!Anl0aUhuftEChNgt_AI483mjCBrKOw?e=s78FX3


Open Flourish | General Discussion / An amazing work from 1683
« on: October 20, 2020, 09:35:05 PM »
This is an advertisement for a writing master in London, published in 1683.

John Smith was a writing master in Christ's Hospital in London. He advertises that he makes his own steel pens, "curiously made to write any hand..." they were "invented and sold by the Author." He also advertises "Writing inks of several sorts," ink glasses (bottles?), pen knives, slates, rulers, etc...

He states that this large advertisement (61 x 47 cm.) includes "a small specimen of all the usual hands of England."  It does include several different writing styles as well as numerous flourishes, figures and designs, all made, presumably, with his steel pens.

I saw a low-resolution image tweeted out by the Newberry Library, the owner of this particular print. I reached out to them and paid to have it photographed and it is so much better than I had hoped. I originally paid for it because it's, by far, the earliest advertisement for steel pens I've ever found. I'm hoping to do a more full analysis of the script styles and will share more as I take a closer look.

Flourishing / Flourished animals - Balderic van Horicke
« on: September 30, 2020, 09:46:35 AM »
Jill Gage, a curator from the Newberry Library in Chicago just tweeted out a series of images from a book by Balderic van Horicke (Brussels, 1633) in their collection. I just had to share these with you all.

A lion, a camel and stork, a reclining man, wonderful owls, and what I think is an otter.


As some of you know, I've been researching the history of steel pens and writing implements in general in the 19th-century.

One thing that confused me when I first started was the term "oblique" when referring to a nib. I came from the fountain pen world, where an "oblique nib" is a type of stub that is cut at an angle. I've always kind of wondered about the difference between fountain pen and dip pen usage of the same term.

I recently wrote a short article for the Pennant, the magazine of the Pen Collectors of America (the US equivalent of the WES in the UK) on this topic. It's more of an introduction for those, like me when I first started, who have only heard of it related to fountain pen nibs. It's coming out later this month and I received a low-res version.

I thought some here might find it interesting, though I'm sure little of it will be new to you. If nothing else, Christopher Yoke was kind enough to donate some images both from his collection of antique oblique holders, as well as some of his recent creations.

The magazine is quite well done, and worth the membership dues required to receive it. The PCA also has an impressive library of materials available for your perusal.

Full disclosure, I've also been publishing my histories of early US steel pen makers in the Pennant. My latest, on Myer Phineas in NYC c. 1840's-50's, is also in this same issue.


Show & Tell / Figuring out my camera setup
« on: June 12, 2020, 10:08:37 PM »
I think I'm getting close to a standard setup for photographing my vintage steel pens. I think adding the scale really helps.

@AnasaziWrites  the first one is for you.

Hopefully this is ok. I though some of you would be interested in a book that is coming out.

I pre-ordered one myself as it looks fascinating. Inks & Paints of the Middle-East by Joumana Medlej. The author is a calligrapher and scholar of traditional methods and materials for Middle Eastern manuscript creation. The book will include recipes!

Her store also includes some other books, including a fascinating series of books on how to create the geometric patterns, inscribed circles and tracery seen in Islamic art. Much of this was also carried back from the crusades and shows up in European design as well.

And she sells her own pigments, inks and pens, but I think she only ships within Britain or maybe Europe. Check with her before ordering. (want a real verdigris green, made with saffron and vinegar? Or a real malachite mineral pigment?)

I have no connection with the author and artist other than a fan. I thought some of you all might also find her work fascinating, and perhaps even useful. I've attached a sample page on making Verdigris.


Word of the Day / Professionally chosen words to test combinations
« on: May 19, 2020, 05:01:58 PM »
An interesting post by a typographer who wanted to create a better set of words than a traditional panagram. It's a list of words with the whole range of letters, letter combinations, round against square, etc... Worth reading the whole post to understand just how much thought went into this list.

The list of words.

Angel Adept Blind Bodice Clique Coast Dunce Docile Enact Eosin Furlong Focal Gnome Gondola Human Hoist Inlet Iodine Justin Jocose Knoll Koala Linden Loads Milliner Modal Number Nodule Onset Oddball Pneumo Poncho Quanta Qophs Rhone Roman Snout Sodium Tundra Tocsin Uncle Udder Vulcan Vocal Whale Woman Xmas Xenon Yunnan Young Zloty Zodiac. Angel angel adept for the nuance loads of the arena cocoa and quaalude. Blind blind bodice for the submit oboe of the club snob and abbot. Clique clique coast for the pouch loco of the franc assoc and accede. Dunce dunce docile for the loudness mastodon of the loud statehood and huddle. Enact enact eosin for the quench coed of the pique canoe and bleep. Furlong furlong focal for the genuflect profound of the motif aloof and offers. Gnome gnome gondola for the impugn logos of the unplug analog and smuggle. Human human hoist for the buddhist alcohol of the riyadh caliph and bathhouse. Inlet inlet iodine for the quince champion of the ennui scampi and shiite. Justin justin jocose for the djibouti sojourn of the oranj raj and hajjis. Knoll knoll koala for the banknote lookout of the dybbuk outlook and trekked. Linden linden loads for the ulna monolog of the consul menthol and shallot. Milliner milliner modal for the alumna solomon of the album custom and summon. Number number nodule for the unmade economic of the shotgun bison and tunnel. Onset onset oddball for the abandon podium of the antiquo tempo and moonlit. Pneumo pneumo poncho for the dauphin opossum of the holdup bishop and supplies. Quanta quanta qophs for the inquest sheqel of the cinq coq and suqqu. Rhone rhone roman for the burnt porous of the lemur clamor and carrot. Snout snout sodium for the ensnare bosom of the genus pathos and missing. Tundra tundra tocsin for the nutmeg isotope of the peasant ingot and ottoman. Uncle uncle udder for the dunes cloud of the hindu thou and continuum. Vulcan vulcan vocal for the alluvial ovoid of the yugoslav chekhov and revved. Whale whale woman for the meanwhile blowout of the forepaw meadow and glowworm. Xmas xmas xenon for the bauxite doxology of the tableaux equinox and exxon. Yunnan yunnan young for the dynamo coyote of the obloquy employ and sayyid. Zloty zloty zodiac for the gizmo ozone of the franz laissez and buzzing.

For those who are interested in the history, paleography as well as tools, and the social/historical context around manuscripts and manuscript culture, there is an amazing new exhibition at Yale's Beinecke's Library.

Unfortunately, because of recent events, very few will ever get to see it in person, but there is an amazing book published to go with the exhibit. I just received my copy yesterday and so far it is a wonderful resource. It's not cheap, but it's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of catalog. It has sections on tools, and on the types of scripts and even lessons with examples on how to read scripts from the periods in question.

They chose this period because it was a time where English scribes stopped importing scripts, developed their own, yet tools remained basically the same throughout.

As I read more, I may post more, but so far I've seen enough to know that it was a worthy purchase and I wanted to share this with you all.

The catalog.


Spencerian Script / Who is A.J. Spencer?
« on: February 13, 2020, 09:52:40 AM »
I had mentioned in an earlier post about a women who contacted me through my website (, wanting to find out more about her great-great-grandfather Edson Healy. Originally, we thought there was some connection with Lyman Potter Spencer, but recently she found, and sent me a scan of, a letter from A. J. Spencer while he was posted at Fairfax Station, VA July 15th, 1865.

I don't know that much about the Spencer family, but I've not found a reference to A.J. Spencer yet. I know Lyman was in the civil war, and the family had stories about Edson's relationship with Lyman, but I don't know A.J.

It's interesting because A.J. opens the letter

Intellectual Friend
It seems not only good, but soul-cheering to once more have the privilege to witness those beautiful, and gracefully formed "lines", as they were neatly formed by my old "School mate" and "companion in office" once at Gallipolis.

More work needs to be done to untangle this, but in the meantime, the letter is quite interesting in it's style, and obviously of the Spencerian school.

Any more knowledge, suggestions, etc... would be greatly appreciated.


In case you didn't know about it, Phil Pursley put together a web site some years ago which attempted to gather together into one place all information about every steel dip pen Esterbrook ever made.

A few years ago, Phil was having some health issues so he asked if I would help him maintain the site. From there I started to do a re-work of the site on a new, more sustainable platform. I began using the information on the existing site, but realized that I was missing so much info which I had elsewhere. So, I went back to the drawing board, gathering information, and I've recently begun again. This time we have more information, more images, and we finally have a template which I think will work.

It will still be a while before I finish the several hundred entries, and I hope to eventually put up better examples of the writing, which illustrate the capabilities of the pen, but, in the meantime, I thought I'd give you a sneak peek at what one of the pages will look like.

In the meantime, feel free to check out the original site, which is still up and so very useful if you have interest in vintage pens.


Open Flourish | General Discussion / Happy Holidays to All
« on: December 20, 2019, 09:46:38 AM »
And what better way than with a little flourishing. Fortunately for you, I won't subject you to mine, but instead use Anna's wonderful bird from somewhere around 1880-1890.

Open Flourish | General Discussion / The letters and drawings of Edson
« on: November 09, 2019, 08:34:57 PM »
I was contacted through my website by a women who has a set of letters and drawings from her great-great-grandfather. She sent me one example but it was of such poor quality I could barely tell there was any writing on it. It was the lyrics to a song, but one thing I could tell was that the paper was framed in some very nice flourishing.

She's currently in a dispute with her family who doesn't want any of the letters shown to anyone. She would like to have them preserved and appreciated. Meanwhile she did share a clearer image of one of his drawings because that one is hers outright so she can do whatever she wants with it.

As far as we can tell, it was her ancestor, Ed, asking out her someday great-great-grandmother to go for a ride. So, basically it's a note asking for a date.

Here's what we've been able to decipher.
Big Leaf: "If Providence permits and the [something] ad[something] would you like to h[something]e (have? hire?) [something]dation(?) of our former ride on Saturday? - Ed.
Second leaf: I desire(?) your consent only  when it's pleasant for you to go.

I thought some of you might appreciate this. It's probably from 1880's. (they married 1888).  It promises some really nice things from the other drawings, and if we can ever get a view of his writing.

If I'm able to get more, I'll share it here.


Open Flourish | General Discussion / Step up your envelope game
« on: November 09, 2019, 03:08:56 PM »
Saw this article on the envelopes decorated by amateur artist Frederick Tolhurst. He was separated from his children and wrote them letters. He decorated the envelopes in the most extraordinary ways.

Even though this is a couple of years old, I thought y'all would enjoy this.

Gone, but I haven't forgotten you all.

Open Flourish | General Discussion / Ruban Malayan- video
« on: October 21, 2019, 09:54:24 AM »
Ruban has almost single-handedly revived the art of calligraphy in Armenia, which once had a very rich heritage of decorative writing.

His work is amazing even if you don't read Armenian (which I don't). He's a true calligraphy artist.

Where he talks about his art, filmed at the Smithsonian Folk Life festival where he represented Armenia.

Also a very short one where he is just writing "The Road" in Armenian.

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